David Chase, creator of "The Sopranos," delivered a moving 15-minute eulogy for actor James Gandolfini during funeral services for the star of the series, held Thursday at the Cathedral Church of St. John the Divine in New York.
Below is an unedited transcript of his remarks:
Your family asked me to speak at your service and I am so honored and touched. I am also really scared. I say that because you of all people would understand this. I’d like to run away and then call in four days later from a beauty parlor. But I want to do a good job because I love you and because you always did a good job. I think the deal is I’m supposed to speak about the actor-artist-work part of your life. Others will have spoken beautifully and magnificently about the other beautiful magnificent parts of you – father, brother, friend.
What I think, I guess what I was told, is I’m also supposed to also speak for your cast mates who you loved, for your crew that you loved so much, for people at HBO. I hope I can speak for all of them and give credit to them and to you.
Experts told me, I asked around, and experts told me to start with a joke or recite a funny anecdote. Ha, ha, ha. But as you yourself so often said, I’m not feelin’ it.
I’m too sad and full of despair. I’m writing to you partly because I’d like to have had your advice, because I remember how you did speeches. I saw you do a lot of them at awards shows and stuff, and invariably I think you used to like scratch two or three thoughts on a sheet of paper and put it in your pocket and then not really refer to it. And consequently, a lot of your speeches didn’t make sense. I think that could happen here except that in your case, it didn’t matter that it didn’t make sense because the feeling was real, the feeling was real, the feeling was real – I can’t say that enough.
I tried to write a traditional eulogy but it came out like bad TV, so I’m writing you this letter and now I’m reading you that letter in front of you. But it is being done to and for an audience, so we’ll give the funny opening a try. I hope it is as funny to me as I know it is to you, and that is one day toward the end of the show, I don’t know, season 4 or 5, we were on the set shooting a scene, you and Steven Van Zandt. And I think the set-up was that Tony had received the news about the death of someone and it was inconvenient for him. When it said, ‘Tony opens the door angrily and then he starts to speak.’
And the cameras roll and you open the refrigerator door and you slammed it really hard. And you slammed it hard enough that it came open again and so then you slammed it again, and it came open again, and you kept slamming it and slamming it and slamming it and slamming it. You went ape… on that refrigerator. And the funny part for me was, I remember Steven Van Zandt, because the cameras are now going and they have to play this whole five-minute scene with the refrigerator door open. And I remember Steven Van Zandt sort of standing with his lip out, and trying to figure out, well what should I do? First as [the character] Silvio because he just ruined my refrigerator and also as Steven the actor, because we’re now going to play a scene with a refrigerator door open. And I remember him going over there and sort of trying to tinker with the door and trying to fix it and it didn’t work.
So we had to finally call ‘cut’ and we had to fix the refrigerator door and it never really worked because the gaffer tape showed and we couldn’t get it in the refrigerator and it was a problem all day long. And I remember you saying, ‘Oh, this role, this role, the places it takes me to and the things I have to do, it’s so dark.’ And I remember saying to you, did I tell you to destroy the refrigerator? Did it say in the script, ‘Tony destroys refrigerator’? It says, ‘Tony angrily shuts refrigerator door.’ That’s what it says. You destroyed the refrigerator.
Another memory that comes to mind is very early on it might have been the pilot, I don’t know. We were shooting in that really hot summer in humid New Jersey, and I looked over and you were sitting in an aluminum beach chair with your slacks rolled up to your knees and black socks and black shoes. And a damp, wet handkerchief on your head.
And I remember looking over there and going, ‘Well that’s really not a cool look.’ And I was filled with love, and I knew then that I was in the right place, because I said, ‘Wow, I haven’t seen that done since my father used to do it, and my Italian uncles used to do it, and my Italian grandfather used to do it. And they were laborers in this same hot sun in New Jersey and they were stone masons, and your father I know worked with concrete – I don’t know what it is with Italians and cement.
And I was so proud of our heritage. It made me so proud of our heritage to see you do that. And when I say I said before that you were my brother, this has a lot to do with that. Italian American, Italian worker, builder, that Jersey thing, whatever that means, same social class – I really feel that though I’m older than you, I’ve always felt that we are brothers. It was partly based on that day. I was filled with so much love for everything that we were doing and that we were about to embark on.
I also feel you were my brother in that we had different tastes, but the things we both loved, which was family, work, people in all their imperfection, food, alcohol, talking, rage, and a desire to bring the whole structure crashing down. We amused each other.
The image of my uncles and father reminded me of something that happened between us once, because these guys were such men, these men from Italy. You were going through a crisis of faith about yourself and acting and a lot of things and you were very upset. I went to meet you on the banks of the Hudson River, and you told me, you said, ‘You know what I want David. I want to be a man. That’s all. I want to be a man.’
Now, this is so odd, because you are such a man. You’re a man in a way that many males, including myself, wish they could be a man. The paradox about you as a man is that I always felt personally that with you I was seeing a young boy. A boy about Michael’s age right now, because you were very boyish. And about that age when humankind and life on the planet are really opening up and putting on a show, really revealing themselves in all their beautiful and horrible glory. And I saw you as a boy, a sad boy, amazed and confused and loving and amazed by all that, and that was all in your eyes. And that was why, I think, you were a great actor, it’s because of that boy that was inside. It was a child reacting.
Of course you were intelligent, but it was child reaction, and your reactions were often childish. And by that I mean they were pre-school, they were pre-manners, they were pre-intellect. They were just simple emotions, straight and pure. And I think your talent is that you can take in the immensity of humankind and the universe, and shine it back out to the rest of us like a bright white light, and I believe that only a pure soul like a child can do that really well. And that was you.
Now to talk about a third guy between us, there was you and me and this third guy. People always say, ‘Tony Soprano -- why did we love him so much when he was such a prick?’ And my theory was they saw the little boy. They felt and they loved the little boy and they sensed his love and hurt, and you brought all of that to it.
You were a good boy. Your work with the Wounded Warriors is just one example of this, and I’m going to say something because I know you’d want me to say it, that no one should forget Tony Sirico’s efforts with you in this. He was there with you all the way, in fact you said to me just recently, you know it’s more Tony than me. And I know you and I know you want me to turn the spotlight on him, or else you wouldn’t be satisfied, so I’ve done that.
So Tony Soprano never changed, people say, he got darker. I don’t know how they can misunderstand that. He tried and he tried and he tried. And you tried and you tried, more than most of us, and harder than most of us, and sometimes you tried too hard, and that refrigerator is one example. Sometimes your efforts were a cost to you and to others. But you tried. And I’m thinking about the fact that how nice you were to strangers on the street, fans, photographers. You would be patient, loving, personal. And then finally, you would just do too much and then you’d snap and of course that’s what everybody read about, is the snapping.
I was asked to talk about the work part, so I’ll talk about the show we used to do and how we used to do it. Everybody knows we always ended an episode with a song and that was kind of like, me and the writers let the real geniuses do the heavy lifting. Bruce and Mick and Keith and Howlin’ Wolf and a whole bunch of them.
And so if this was an episode we would end with a song and the song, as far as I’m concerned, would be Joan Osborne’s ‘One of Us?’ And the set-up for this, and we never did this and you never even heard this, but the set-up was that Tony was somehow lost in the Meadowlands. He didn’t have his car and his wallet and his whatever, his car keys, and I forget how he got there, some kind of scrape. But he had nothing in his pockets but some change. He didn’t have his guys, he didn’t have his gun. And so mob boss just had to be one of the working stiffs getting in line to get on the bus.
And the way we were going to film it, he was going to get on the bus, and the lyric that would have gone over that, and we don’t have Joan Osborne to sing it, ‘If God had a face / what would it look like / and would you want to see/ if seeing meant that you would have to believe / and yeah yeah, God is great / yeah, yeah, yeah.’
So Tony would get on the bus and he would sit there and the bus would pull out and this big billow of diesel smoke. And then the key lyric would come on: ‘What if God was one of us / just a slob like one of us / just a stranger on the bus, trying to make his way home.’ And that was playing over your face.
But then, and this is where it gets kind of strange, now I would have to update because of the events of the last week, and I would let the song play further. And the lyrics would be: 'just trying to make his way home, like a holy rolling stone, back up to heaven all alone, nobody calling on the phone, except for the pope maybe in Rome.’
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